October 21st, 2013

Mental Rules of Golf

In my life as a teacher, I taught many amateurs and professional golfers to play golf, and one major difference between the two groups was not an innate talent for golf. Professional golfers invest in their mental game, they understand the need to develop and practice the psychological aspect of their game. Physical skills will only get you so far. There is no point in having a fantastic swing on the driving range, but not being able to rely on it, in a competition. Not being able to putt or chip well when you are being watched by the public or other golfers, this is a common problem, but you can learn how to focus on the task at hand so you can utilize your skills in any situation.

Journalists and commentators talk about‘The Zone’when professionals are performing at the top of their ability. But let me ask the journalists: what is The Zone? Where is it? How do you get in it? The Zone is just a state of focused concentration. When all expectations, sounds, analytical thoughts and worries are all pushed out of the conscious awareness, so the body is free to perform the sport without the hindrance of distractions.   
Getting in The Zone is not just luck or a random event. It can be learnt. My coach used to say to me:”Demi, more awareness less performance less awareness, more performance”.
Let start with mental rules of golf: for example, Annika Sorenstam, when she played golf and she was world’s number 1 for as long as Tiger Woods, she always played for the “perfect game: 54 strokes for 18 holes. Par 72 golf course minus 18 birdies = 54 strokes, when she was -6 or -7 under par she was in a comfortable position, so when other professional players got the score around - 6 or -7 under par, they got nervous and come out of the comfort zone. Annika Sorenstam shot a 59, the only woman LPGA to shoot 59 in a professional tournament. She always focused at what she can control; she did not worry about what she cannot control. The other part of her mental game was that she never focused at what media or players are saying about her. I did work with Annika’s sister,  a great professional golfer, Charlotta Sorenstam in 2004-2005 in Australia, and we worked on "stay in the Moment play one shot at the time". Great players can do that.

I teach my students how to relax, and trust their own abilities so they can focus on the task in hand and, this stops them being held back by worries, distractions and self-criticism. My coach used to say to me: “Demi stop criticizing yourself, you have thousands of people watching you. Let them criticize you, so at least you stop doing it and play your game.” He was a great man and all he said was so true. I was lucky to have him as my coach.

Now, going back to my few members that had the chance to play with me on the golf course, they saw how detached I am from everything that is around me, including them as players. I am not the same person on the golf course that I am when I socialize with people or players. I am looking for that elusive "Zone",  I want to find it and stay in it.

So my advice to my players and members at Lighthouse Golf Course is – Improve concentration, rely on your swing, eliminate distractions, and cope with competition pressure.